August 06, 2011

Frank Bruni, secularly clueless

Frank Bruni, with the red herring false lead of Rick Perry's "The Promise' (certainly not a rose garden), then jumps to the real subject of his column: the claim that secularists have their own degrees of magical thinking.

I may have found somebody dumber than Teapot Tommy Friedman AND Mojo Dowd on the Sunday NYT op-eds, at least for this week. Bruni erects a straw man and calls it "secularism," showing he clearly knows no such thing of real secularist thought. Here's his entree into wrongness:
But if we stick with this honesty thing, don’t we also have to admit that to varying degrees and with varying stakes, there’s magical thinking in secular life, and that it springs from a similar yearning for easy, all-encompassing answers? Didn’t the debt-ceiling showdown show us that?
No, it did not, and ergo, no, we don't have to admit any such thing. First, there's only one avowed secularlist in Congress, Pete Stark. Second, the debt talks didn't involve "secularism" in any way, shape or form, other than some tea party types perhaps claiming divine backing for their stances.

This blather comes next.
We all have our religions, all of which exert a special pull — and draw special fervor — when apprehension runs high and confusion deep, as they do now.
Wrong again. Many of us accept that life simply doesn't have absolutes. Not all of us are existentialist about that, but some of us are. (I, like Camus' Mersault, sometimes open my arms to the empty starlit sky.)

Then, there's the allegation that secularism is somehow gullible in some way:
“The minute you decide to buy the Toyota, your evaluation of it goes up,” said Jon A. Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University who studies attitude formation. “You overly romanticize it.”

The same goes for religious creeds, political theories or, for that matter, management philosophies.
Oh, some secularists may be. But, the educated, skeptically-minded (in its right sense) secularists are aware of just how irrational human behavior can be at times, and wisely make no exception for ourselves. We may still engage at times in irrational behaviors at first, but we next engage in some form of self-examination.


Christopher Michael Luna said...

While I appreciate the desire to break down ridiculous oversimplifications of social movements, I'm not convinced that secularists are less gullible than other kinds of people.

So much of rationalism proceeds from some pretty basic, often cultural, assumptions about the way the world works. Secularism isn't divorced from that, and I'm (lol) skeptical of whether an ideology such a secularism could really work substantially against human gullibility.

Gadfly said...

Christopher, agreed with that. That, in turn, gets back to the problems with Bruni's column. He first seems to be implying secularism as a unified cultural force, ie, secular humanism, rather than an amorphous mass, but then, after that, he never defines it further.

Otherwise, yes ... IMO, it's why the term "village idiot athiest" is still valid today.

Christopher Michael Luna said...

It's funny because, depending on who you're talking to, "secularism" could mean very different things. In history or religious studies we looking into the supposed secularization of culture, and there we really are talking about an amorphous kind of cultural movement that's difficult to define.

But if you talk about secularism with a secular humanist, you can often hear the capital S. It's not uncommon for this to feed peoples' ability to talk past one another.